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ROC Freedom Riders spread message of hope and racial justice



Of the more than 170 shows in this year’s KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival, several are related to the Black Lives Matter movement. One of them is a production from ROC Freedom Riders.

The group was formed in June, after the May 25 death of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police.

That was before the public knew about an incident — one that would be compared to Floyd’s death — that had happened in Rochester months earlier. In March, police officers restrained Daniel Prude; he died a week later from the injuries he suffered.

“It only feels right, it only is right for us to be able to honor the life of Daniel Prude,” said Rashad Smith, co-founder of ROC Freedom Riders. “We’re not just riding for issues that are impacting us nationally, it’s now in our own backyard and now the fight is more intense.”

The group is an homage to the Freedom Riders of the 1960s civil rights movement. The original activists rode buses into the Jim Crow South to challenge segregation. ROC Freedom Riders deliver their message of racial justice and police reform on bikes. Smith sees the bike itself as a symbol of freedom.

“The bike is just our ability to be able to move and roll and ride where we want, how we want,” he said.

The Fringe production ”ROC Freedom Riders: Why We Ride,” is a multidisciplinary visual experience.

Smith said it tries to capture the current mood of the fight for racial justice and equity. “We’re going to do that through one-on-one interviews with folks talking about their experience fighting for equity and change in Rochester,” he explained. “We’re going to do that also through discussions where we’ll sit at a table with Freedom Rider captains who will talk about the reasons why they ride.”

The presentation also features art, slam poetry, and hip-hop confessions.
Smith said it’s also a chance to highlight positive stories of Black communities that aren’t always represented in the media.

“We have the audience at the Fringe Fest to be able to tell the truthful and the positive and the uplifting stories of our community coming together, working together, demanding together,” he said. “That’s something I think we’re most excited about, to get the stories of the people, raw and uncut.”

The show “ROC Freedom Riders: Why We Ride” is available on demand through September 26 at The group’s next bike ride is scheduled for September 19, at 10:30 a.m., to start in the 400 block of Jefferson Avenue, where Prude was restrained by Rochester police during his mental health arrest.

“We will ride to several locations throughout the city,” Smith said, “chanting and protesting and yelling at the top of our lungs.”

Those who want to join the ride are asked to register on the group’s Facebook page or just show up at the start of the ride if they don’t have internet access.  Other Black Lives Matter shows at the Rochester Fringe Festival include ”The Legend of Double Ax Max and the Shadow People” on September 19 and 26; ”Black in the Box,” on demand; and ”Echoes of ’64” on September 24.